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Personal Best

Personal Shoppers Help Harried Executives Fill Out Their Wardrobes
Kimberly Cihlar
From the Print Edition:
Bo Derek, Jul/Aug 00

Clammy palms clutch a Dunhill briefcase handle in one hand; in the other, a silver Nokia cellular rings incessantly. A vague, unpleasant tingling gnaws at your abdomen. Then, audible grinding of the back molars and, suddenly, a spastic tic in the left eye. It's been a day fraught with angst--power breakfasts, damage-control lunches, strategic-planning coffee breaks--then, on top of it all, the boss has suggested you update your wardrobe.  

You take a deep breath, head toward a daunting temple of menswear and wonder if you should start at ground level with shirts and ties or maneuver up a few levels to the suits that hang like exhibits in an avant-garde art gallery. Perhaps, you think dizzily, you'd do better to step over to the shoe department. At least, you know how to tell whether brogues fit or not. Through the sweat and the fret, you have a lucent thought: Need I dread shopping like a trip to the dentist?  

Not if you use a personal shopper. Personal shoppers take you where you need to go fashionably speaking, without your literally having to go along. Personal shoppers are lifestyle choices for men who either can't, won't or don't have time to make purchases in person. Many men have traditionally relied on wives or girlfriends to perform this service on a purely amateur basis, but a point comes when it's time to step up to professional help. Personal shoppers, or image consultants, can go several steps beyond the woman in your life, acting as a kind of new-age valet.  

While animation designer Robert Kopecky understands the intricacies of bringing figures to life on screen, when it comes to putting ooomph in his wardrobe, he turns to a personal shopper "because she knows what's great stylistically, where to go to get it at a great price, and what will make me feel and look the best I can. I trust her. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I put on something she's bought for me, I feel great in it and know it's right for me."  

For some clients, image isn't only important, it is everything. Those are the show business person-alities and other celebrities who are expected to be impeccably turned out whenever the cameras are on them. Personal shoppers tend to be just one step away from those stylists to the stars who scout for and dress actors to ready them for their Oscar or Grammy close-ups. In these cases, the shoppers tend to be the unsung heroes. Even while designers bask in the credit for swathing actresses, personal shoppers usually keep mum about the male stars they have helped dress.  

Whether personal shoppers are charged with making you an international fashion plate or just spiffing up your corporate image, it is their purview to suss out treacherous clothing terrain and protect you from poor fashion risks. Indeed, men's fashion real estate, which can involve myriad departments and multiple floors, can be a daunting shopping challenge. Personal shoppers do the walking, picking, purchasing and even credit card signing. They pull everything together for you, from suits through the all accoutrements.  

The services typically don't end at the threshold of the store where the clothing comes from. Peter Elliott, owner of his eponymous men's boutique in New York City, says he goes "into people's homes to rearrange closets, to suggest they get buttons on this, or get that steam pressed. We tell them how to do things, how to salvage their clothes."  

In addition, Elliott's offers a 24-hour emergency phone service for clothing crises--saving grace when airlines "misplace" luggage. "Late one night I got this panicked call from a guy who'd just flown in from Texas and had an early-morning meeting. He came in and picked out two suits," recalls Elliott. "I used double-stick tape on the pant legs of one to create a temporary hem. I had to fine-tune that business, though, after a call from some guy wailing about lipstick on his collar. I told him, 'If you made your bed, sleep in it,' or something to that effect. We don't do that kind of stuff."  

When it is on the level, though, personal shoppers go to great lengths to accommodate clients. Color blind? Sartorially challenged? Unsure of the dress code in a new job? Putting his trust in capable fashion insider Lila Frodesen (who now happens to be his wife) has kept Terry Davidson, director of the Leo Kaplan Modern Glass Gallery, in tasteful threads. "As an artistic person who has to work within the corporate Madison Avenue arena and dress the part, Terry has had to have clothing that portrays his personality, but also is sophisticated and traditional enough to fit into an uptown business clientele," notes Frodesen.  

Often paid a commission based on total purchase, personal shoppers go the extra mile for their clients to seal a deal. Clients often recite stories of their personal shopper coming through in the clutch. One client was seeking a sold-out wool coat from a store catalogue in vain until his personal shopper, who works at a rival, "tracked down and bought the shearling coat I fell in love with--from another store!"   Personal shoppers strive to make dressing in the morning as painless as possible. Dan Samson, Barneys' men's personal shopper, codes his clients' purchases on a color-coordinated "cheat-sheet" chart. Some personal shoppers travel seasonally to provide up-to-date fashion knowledge gleaned from international designer fashion shows.  


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